Journey to Youghal

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VII (2) | Start of Chapter

At last the town of Youghal, with her noble bridge, met the eye. The drawbridge was raised for the steamer to pass, and we saw the houses extending along the sea-shore, on the vicinity of a hill, commanding a noble prospect of the sea. The busy population in pursuit of gain by their bartering and bantering, told us that self here was an important item, though not a beggar put out her hand, invoking "the blessing of the Virgin" for your penny. A ferry-boat put me safely on the other side, leaving me a three miles walk, partly upon the beach, but mostly inland, and thus giving an opportunity of seeing a peasantry who speak English only when compelled by necessity. Making inquiry from cabin to cabin, not one bawled out, "Go along to such a place, and inquire;" but each one left her work, sometimes accompanied by two dogs and thrice the number of pigs, and led me a distance on the way, with a kind "God bless ye," at parting. A troop of boys now came galloping at full speed, intent, one might suppose, on sport or mischief. But each had a book under his arm or in his hand, and I saw they were returning from school, and saluting them kindly, they gathered around me, listened to the story of schools in America, and earnestly asked such questions as to them seemed important. At our parting, each was emulous to direct me on my way, lest at the "cross-road" I should mistake. "Now, ma'am, don't you take the left;" "nor don't ye go straight on," said a second, "but turn to the right," &c. And when, like so many young deer, they bounded away, I blessed God that the dawn of education was breaking upon Ireland, and that the generation now rising shall feel its genial ray, and by her power have the independence to assert their country's heaven-born rights.

But the great man was not yet reached, and I was weary with walking. A little girl with a heavy burden on her back, said, "And is it Sir Musgrave, ma'am, ye would see? you should go up that road, ma'am, and the way is much shorter." That road had long since been passed, but the girl added, "Ye are on the road to the Blessed Well." "Blessed Well! what is that?" "I don't know, ma'am, only people goes there to pray." This reconciled me a little to the mistake of the path; and walking on, a clump of trees was pointed out as the sacred place. There was something superstitiously pleasant in the appearance and associations about this well. It was eighteen hundred years ago since Jesus, "weary with his journey, sat down on the well," and the woman of Samaria came out to draw water. Here was a spot where thousands had knelt, and drank, and gone away as dark as they came; ignorantly supposing that some saint had sanctified its waters. As I was musing, a young damsel like Rebecca of old, with a large brown pitcher, "came hither to draw." She was "fair to look upon." I saluted her, she answered pleasantly in Irish, and after filling her pitcher walked away. Never did that living water of which Jesus told the woman of Samaria look more precious than now; never had I more ardently desired to tell a benighted traveller "the way, the truth, and the life;" but I could not speak her language, neither could I, like Jesus, have told her "all that ever she did." How many of these sincere devotees who come here to drink, have ever tasted of the well of salvation, God alone must decide.

Ireland’s Welome to the Stranger is one of the best accounts of Irish social conditions, customs, quirks and habits that you could wish for. The author, Mrs Asenath Nicholson, was an American widow who travelled extensively in Ireland on the eve of the Great Famine and meticulously observed the Irish peasantry at work and play, as well as noting their living conditions and diet. The book is also available from Kindle.